Enterprise software sales can be a long process with many stops and starts. The higher the price point, often, the longer it will take to complete a sale. Most enterprise software and software as a service (SaaS) providers have sales cycles that average six months. So how can you speed it up? A proof-of-value exercise (POV) can be an accelerator for the decision maker, especially when working with a prospect that has complex requirements.
A POV is sometimes interchanged with proof of concept (POC) and there isn’t firm agreement on the difference. Generally, a POV is focused more on proving out the business value of adopting a new solution rather than just the technical validation of a POC. In these times of economic uncertainty, the POV is bound to be critical to seal the deal with certain prospects.
How Does It Work?
The POV should not be an early-stage activity with the prospect, but a well-qualified step in the sales process. It is important to first go through the discovery process to ensure that the organization is a good fit for your solution and that you can meet the short and long-term objectives. The goal of the POV is to demonstrate that your solution can deliver upon the expected benefits. Running a POV often needs data, which can be sample data or a small set of the prospect’s production data. There is also time required from technical staff at both the prospect and vendor. This can involve one or two days of work.
In the case of my company, which delivers an unstructured data management SaaS solution, we run an analysis of 10% to 20% of the prospect’s data to show what their dashboard would look like and what kind of metrics and outcomes they’d get with our product. The prospect should understand that the POV process will result in a proposal and is a late-stage activity – not for just kicking the tires with the technical team. Upon completion of the POV, the vendor should deliver a professional report with screenshots and charts detailing the results and the steps that were undertaken from start to finish.
When To Do a POV?
POVs are a customer-driven activity. Once the prospect’s main stakeholders have seen a custom demo, had discussions about pricing and fully understand your product’s value proposition, they might ask for technical proof because it is an internal requirement and/or because they need to validate that the solution can work in their technology ecosystem and will deliver the desired business outcomes.
An early-stage startup may run POVs on most of their deals but a later stage startup with word-of-mouth credibility and references shouldn’t need to do them as frequently. As an example, my company’s product has been on the market for several years and today we conduct POV’s for roughly 5% to 10% of our closed deals versus around 75% in our first year of product launch. In the right situation for the right customer, a POV is worth the time.
A Few POV Best Practices
To ensure that your POV succeeds with a high probability of a sale, consider the following steps.
Ensure that the product has been budgeted and approved for purchase before you commence a POV. There’s nothing worse than putting forth all this effort with a successful result only to find out that the prospect isn’t ready to buy.
Ensure involvement of business decision makers. Since a POV’s main purpose is to demonstrate achievement of high-level organizational goals, it’s critical to have access to a CXO and/or the relevant departmental business stakeholders.
Deliver a bottom-up approach to get the right results. Start by agreeing upon the top issues that the customer needs to solve. From there, map out the POV objectives and desired results. For instance, in our world, the issues might include uncontrolled unstructured data growth, high storage costs, cloud migration and limited visibility into data and shares across hybrid IT infrastructure. The POV objectives might include automatically moving cold data to cost effective storage without changing business applications and simplifying operations with policy driven, transparent archiving. The results are to demonstrate lower storage costs, reduced manual effort, demonstrate data modeling/analytics and show how to get maximum value from data in the cloud.
Encourage user training. Encourage the prospect to engage in a few hours of training prior to the POV. This will make the POV process smoother and reinforce understanding of the outcomes later.
Get organized on security. It’s not an uncommon issue when the vendor is ready to begin the POV process and the prospect suddenly can’t support it because the technical staff doesn’t have all the security credentials on hand. Give the customer a checklist well ahead of time listing all the systems they’ll need to access during the POV so they have time to gather the necessary credentials.
Create a crisp timeline. Try to schedule a tight timeframe for your POV, as this will keep the momentum going. The shorter the timeframe, the higher chance of success. Begin with a kickoff meeting including stakeholders from IT, security and the business. Identify the players and their roles. Have a firm start date and end date—ideally no longer than two days–and schedule a meeting to deliver a final presentation which maps the outcomes to customer goals.
Begin and end with business value discussions. The POV that focuses too much on demonstrating the technical underpinnings of your solution will invariably get picked apart and miss the point with the prospect. By focusing on business objectives and business criteria for selection, you will be able to keep the conversation high-level and exactly where the IT purchaser wants to be.
Schedule a POV review meeting. Soon after the completion of the POV, schedule a review meeting with the solution consultants and account executives from the vendor side and the technical and business decision makers from the prospect organization. The purpose of this meeting is to review the results, clearly demonstrate potential business impact of adopting the solution and move toward the next steps in finalizing the deal.
A POV, while not always appropriate, is a valuable sales tool that can get all the parties aligned at the vendor and the prospect for a common goal of solving important issues and achieving the desired long-term benefits. By looking beyond the technical aspects of your solution, you’ll have a higher chance of moving the prospect down the line to becoming a satisfied, paying customer.